Lady Tigers hope to make first trip to Elite 8

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The Adairsville High girls soccer team has already accomplished a great deal this season, compiling a 16-1 record, winning Region 6-AAA and advancing to the second round of the state playoffs.

The Lady Tigers will look to take that success even further today when they host Jackson in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs in Tiger Stadium at 6 p.m. with the program’s first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals at stake.

“We’ve met every goal we’ve set for ourselves this year. It would certainly mean a lot to advance, but we don’t feel the season would be defined by that because we’ve already met every goal we’ve attempted,” Adairsville head coach David Sexauer said. “We feel really good about what we’ve done. It’s very difficult to penetrate deep into the state playoffs. It would mean a great deal for our school. It would be the first time we advanced to the Elite 8, so it would be awesome.

“We have some seniors that have their last chance to leave their mark on our program. It would mean a lot to them. So we’re ready to play. We’re ready to go after them. Of course, [Jackson is] a good team, so it’s a little hard to tell at this point until we get out and play to see how we really match up.”

Adairsville defeated its first-round opponent, West Hall, by a score of 8-1. Jackson defeated Westside by a score of 3-1. Jackson is the No. 2 seed out of Region 2-AAA.

The winner of tonight’s game will advance to play the winner of Jefferson and Savannah Arts Academy in the quarterfinals Saturday.

“We don’t really know this team very well. Of course, we haven’t faced each other. So there’s a little bit of an unknown there. But we think we’re ready for them,” Sexauer said of Jackson. “They can play and they have talented players. They have speed. They have everything they need.”

Sexauer said the two teams are similar, not only in their styles of play, but also their records this season.

“One thing that is kind of interesting is that Jackson and us, if you look at MaxPreps, we’ve had a similar strength of schedule based on their algorithms. We don’t know exactly how they do it, but they assign numbers based on you strength of schedule,” Sexauer said. “We’ve also both — in two different regions — we’ve both scored 42 goals in our regions. We both have also had four goals against us in our regions. It’s a very interesting stat because you rarely see it line up like that.

“In other words, they’ve basically had identical success in their region that we’ve had in ours, although they did come in second in their region.”

According to Sexauer, both teams play an offensive-minded attacking style, which could make for an exciting game.

“We’re running our open formation where we kind of have an attacking style, and we believe they do, too,” he said. “Some teams you play are very defensive. This team, we believe, plays a full field and will attempt to attack us. So it could be quite a dramatic game with the ball moving from one end to the other throughout the night.”

The Lady Tigers have enough firepower to play that style, and have scored 92 goals on the season. Sophomore Emily Collum leads the way with 26 goals and is tied for the team lead with eight assists. She had a hat trick against West Hall and has six three-goal games on the season.

Haley Pittman and Gillian Johnson each have 14 goals on the year, while Pittman also has eight assists. She is one assist away from 40 for her career, which would break the program record set by Emily Sexauer. She also is one goal away from moving into sole possession of second on the program’s all-time goals scored list.

Katie Lawhorn, meanwhile, has 11 goals and six assists, while Kaitlyn Webster has nine goals and six assists this season.

“I like the fact that we’re pretty balanced and we have half a dozen girls that can score,” Sexauer said. “That’s one of our advantages is we have a lot of talented players and we can come at a team from different directions. I think that’s an advantage for us and makes it difficult for a lot of teams to handle.”

Defensively, the Lady Tigers are led in the back by Victoria Davis, Mac Stephenson, Emily Emmons, Lauren Stephenson, Molly Carter and Macy Hufstetler in front of freshman keeper Havyn Isaac, who has 16 wins and 10 1/2 shutouts this year.

“We have an entire team that can play. That’s why we’re doing so well,” Sexauer said. “We have really good players. They’ve worked hard in the offseason, played soccer in the community, on different teams, gone to camps and a lot of that stuff. We have a good group.”

That group includes four seniors and several other players who were a part of the second-round game last season.

“I think I have about seven girls that played a significant role last year, so there’s some experience level and a comfort level there,” Sexauer said. “I think they’ve helped steady the other girls as we’ve reached deeper into the playoffs.”

Unlike last season when the Lady Tigers ran into a buzzsaw with Blessed Trinity, which was the Class 3A runner-up, Sexauer believes his team is more evenly matched with Jackson this time around.

“We feel like we have a pretty good draw this time,” he said. “I think the teams, quite frankly, are pretty evenly matched based on the styles of soccer they play and we play. It should be a great matchup.”

Not only should the game be competitive, but it will feature a playoff atmosphere at the high school stadium.